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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Intelligent Design: The Ultimate Oxymoron

"I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," Bush said at a press conference Monday. " You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes."

The different ideas to which he is referring are evolution, which is already taught in public schools, and "intelligent design," which is an alternative viewpoint developed by people who just can't understand the science behind evolution and therefore reject it in favor of divine intervention. In other words, there's no way evolution could explain the many changes in life from its origin to now, so it must be the work of God.

What kills me about intelligent design are its many logical flaws, the main one being the ability to reject evolution because of its complexity but the ability to believe that there is a supernatural force able to control all of the forces of nature, from the origin of life to the movement of solar systems, a far more complex task. It is just impossible for proponents of intelligent design to believe evolution can explain how one-cell organisms became the complex creatures we are today, yet their substitute explanation proposes something much more complex, and something lacking any scientific basis. No wonder Dubya got re-elected.

One of the staple arguments of intelligent designers is that evolution is a "theory," which to them means it is just conjecture of liberals who hate God, or whatever. I've posted on this ignorant argument before. Allow the esteemed and now late evolutionary biologist Steven Jay Gould to explain it:
Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered.

Moreover, "fact" does not mean "absolute certainty." The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science, "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent." I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.

Gould points out that debate on the mechanisms of evolution do not disprove the fact that our species has evolved. Even Darwin agreed. Gould writes:
Darwin continually emphasized the difference between his two great and separate accomplishments: establishing the fact of evolution, and proposing a theory—natural selection—to explain the mechanism of evolution. He wrote in The Descent of Man: "I had two distinct objects in view; firstly, to show that species had not been separately created, and secondly, that natural selection had been the chief agent of change. . . . Hence if I have erred in . . . having exaggerated its [natural selection's] power . . . I have at least, as I hope, done good service in aiding to overthrow the dogma of separate creations."

But such concepts rarely enter the public debate, because they require too much thinking and reasoning for many people, especially those who rely on their faith as the guiding principle of life. Or, as Gould put it:
"Scientific creationism" is a self-contradictory, nonsense phrase precisely because it cannot be falsified. I can envision observations and experiments that would disprove any evolutionary theory I know, but I cannot imagine what potential data could lead creationists to abandon their beliefs. Unbeatable systems are dogma, not science.

President Bush should be aware of some other alternative explanations to the origin of life: panspermia, in which the seeds of life came here on comets or in space dust; aliens planting DNA here; and that life travels the universe on beams of light. Those theories have as much scientific merit as intelligent design, if not more.

6 Comments:

Blogger Truth or Death said...

What you demonstrate here is both a lack of understanding of the discussion concerning design theory and a lack initiative to even engage in that discussion on the merits. I find the latter most interesting.

Proponents of design theory are not demanding that only design theory be taught to the exclusion of all other theories. They are not ordering the deconstruction of scientific discussion to put an end to alternative views.

Rather, design theorists simply advocate that there is in fact a substantial body of scientific study which provides the basis for rational discussion for the theory of Intelligent Design.

They are not afraid of debate and discussion and are more than willing to compare evolution theory to their own.

Your argument, however, does just the opposite. You write off an opposing viewpoint with little discussion or consideration for the foundations of the argument indicating that ID theory is simply an easy alternative to actual scientific effort.

If your position is correct, and ID is incorrect, what is the harm in entering into that debate?

Should we discuss Panspermia? To the extent that it can be founded in fact, yes.

As Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez stated:

"Scientists can study the cosmos and argue from the evidence to different conclusions. As long as they can formulate a plausible hypothesis and put their arguments in empirical harms’ way--as philosopher of science Del Ratzsch has put it--there should be no talk of banishing anyone to outer darkness."

I encourage you to educate yourself on all sides of the debate. I recommend the Discovery Institute as a starting point for ID theory and the work The Privileged Planet, co-authored by Dr. Gonzalez

5:45 PM

 
Blogger Colin Whitworth said...

Thanks for your informative post, but I have yet to read any scientific basis for ID, and it certainly does not rise to the level of science behind evolution. If you would either provide some info here or some links, then anyone interested can learn more.

When you refer to "a substantial body of scientific study," are you referring to the debate over evolution or to some support for ID?

I'll do some more research and post again when I'm done.

9:14 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having received a PhD in biology (but no longer in research, but instead am now an adminstrator) I can say with some confidence that those who support the concept of Intelligent Design as a science do not know what they are talking about.

ID is no more a field of science than the supposition that humans were brought to Earth by extraterrestials.

9:30 PM

 
Blogger Colin Whitworth said...

I think just the Republicans were brought here by aliens.

Thanks, Dr. Anon, for the post. Nice to have an educated POV on this issue.

8:33 AM

 
Blogger Truth or Death said...

Dr. Anon,

You make my point for me. You completely write off the entire discussion of ID as a "field of science."

It seems you suffer from the same block Colin dissected in his first post.

Its easier to write off something you disagree with than to explore it and consider the possibility that there are rational alternatives to your accepted point of view.

As for the PhD, I'll remind readers that as an anonymous poster you can be anyone you want, whether it is true or not.

Also, as diverse as the field of "Biology" and given the special focus of PhD degrees, a PhD in biology does not automatically mean that the holder has done any extraordinary analysis of origin sciences.

That said, I concede that I am sure a majority of biologists will disagree with Design Theory. But a ever-growing minority of scientists are dissatisfied with the explanation of origins promoted by the theories are Darwin.

We can write off this minority, but the spirit of scientific endeavor pushes us to examine their claims and seek alternatives.

And Colin, I appreciate your intellectual curiousity revealed by your response, though sprinkled with disdain for your detractors. Consideration for the possibility of alternatives, that is all design theorists ask for.

Onto some sources.

As I mentioned before, the Discovery Institute is a great resource. Specifically, their Center for Science and Culture.

Discovery.org

And here's a great crash course on the basics of ID.

http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=2348

I also recommend the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center

http://www.ideacenter.org/

Origins.org for some intriguing writings.

And http://www.designinference.com/ featuring writings by Dr. William Dembski.

I'll also direct you again to The Privileged Planet (http://www.privilegedplanet.com/), a book turned documentary which observes the remarkable correlation between habitability and discoverability.

Finally, two great blogs on the subjects.

http://www.idthefuture.com/

http://www.evolutionnews.org/

Keep searching for truth Colin!

9:41 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ron Paul fanatics are minorities too, so should he have been president? Intelligent Design is just religion under another guise. It is pure faith, which means belief without proof. Hmm... Isn't a theory completely based on proofs? So what makes Intelligent Design a theory? I am a Geologist, so you want to explain to me how the earth is only 6,000 years old, I still can't understand that. And explain fossils to me too. Where those put there to question our faith? What a load of bullcrap. Intelligent Design should stay where it belongs, in the Chruch. Not in schools.
And Design "Theorists" only want to push thier conservitist faith on children. They don't want "alternative theories", especailly considering that thier "theory" isn't even a theory.

8:00 PM

 

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